The way Rod Rosenstein sees it, the nation’s federal prosecutors have made great strides on his watch in combating crime and prosecuting cases. He wishes more people were watching, the Wall Street Journal reports. Since taking office as deputy attorney general in 2017, Rosenstein has become the highest-profile holder of that post in recent memory because he oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Russia probe’s political sizzle has drawn much more attention than consequential policies rolled out at the Justice Department that Rosenstein says are working even if the world isn’t watching. “We sit down every day and we work on the priorities of the department, conduct our responsibilities appropriately, and try to ignore that inevitable attention from the media about the process,” he tells the Journal.
Violent crime and gun prosecutions are up. Critics challenge the notion that the administration’s emphasis on enforcement is the right approach to crime-fighting in the 21st century and risks overcrowding prisons. Rosenstein attributed last year’s record prosecution total partly to a surge of prosecutors sent to the U.S.-Mexican border and to cities beset by violence. He cited the administration’s decision to undo an Obama-era policy urging leniency for lower-level drug offenders. “We’re not in the business of filling up the prisons, we’re in the business of trying to reduce crime,” he said. Some question the use of department resources. Jeff Vaden, a former federal prosecutor in Houston, said his border district didn’t historically spend time on misdemeanor illegal-entry cases, focusing on defendants who re-entered the U.S. after having been deported because of criminal convictions. The public focus on the Russia probe has allowed Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make some policy changes in immigration and criminal justice without much scrutiny by Congress.